Posts Tagged ‘Z213: EXIT’

A Review of “Poena Damni, Z213: EXIT” by Dimitris Lyacos, Translated by Shorsha Sullivan

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

We begin in what may be an internment camp, some complex, “four wards separate not far from the sea … and ashes spread out on the floor black stains and ashes … and next day in the morning they would come and take them from there and you could hear at that time they were going in and calling their names…” The vagueness of the prose style establishes the limits of this world and the concerns of the text. We have a camp, a train, soldiers, a Bible with notes inside, and we have encroaching darkness, the struggle to remember, the struggle of hiding, physical pain. A war, just ended or ongoing, shapes the experience as well. “Remnants of the very last attack” mark both the landscape and the prose, which yearns for “Human traces” in a wasteland of loss, lost memory. “Remember to write as much as I can,” we are told—a first person phrasing for the voice of the text, a shifting protagonist—“As much as I remember. So that I can remember,” and yet, this person forgets and, chronicles, in pieces, in poetic fragments and impressionistic prose, this very forgetting, the gap that opens between self and memory, self and world, self and other. “I think of you but not like before.” The man leaves the place of wards, pushes on, boards a train, travelling from one zone to another—“Cruel the evening again in the station and the train and another station, silent, and the train…”—but the main drama of this text is interior to this person fleeing, attempting to flee, forgetting, attempting to remember:

One by one all those that fled all those you left, pieces, pieces like ice breaking and falling in front of your feet. And it melts before you can move…. Cramp in the stomach, the usual. You cover your feet with the pullover, fall face down. Chilly berth that sticks to your face. You wear the pullover, under the jacket you put the Bible for a pillow. Her breast, her half-opened mouth. Some life. You unbutton your trousers put your hand in.

Thus, while travelling onward, there is a sense, of moving in a circle, a spiral even. Passing the same tree again and again, remembering the same woman, moving yet not making an exit, only sinking deeper, descending. “I try to stay awake. I wet my face with some water.” This retreat is not orderly, nor is the only violence here that of battle, of beatings and whatever bombs leave castles in ruins along the route of travel. “I have no painkiller,” our narrator says, in response to a pain in his foot but also to the larger problem, the journey, the attempt at exit.

And when you can no longer remember, just meaningless things here and there, and you can’t. But still try even then, as the twilight sets in, stand and look at the past, walk again along the corridors where your eyes used to wander, attentive ghosts, open the boxes, think of the other side of the wall. Sit at the side of the road and see yourself pass.

Z213: EXIT gives us not a conventional story but, rather, “a tale you remember unfinished.” Which is not to say that there is no drama, no danger, no desire.  There is even sex, or a memory of sex, maybe a dream of a memory in the process of its own erasure. At times in this hypnotic little book it feels as if everything exits except for our protagonist, whom, while in many ways mysterious, is also something we feel and thus know. The stream of his thoughts define our experience of the text:

they change, all things, memory changes, you change yourself, some woman you search for, you don’t know if you were seeking another, if you had some other hope, other aim. Tomorrow perhaps something else might erase those things as well, the new veil of the world, but you will never know it, you won’t be able to know it.

Of note, too, is the role this book plays in a larger trilogy (which I have not read). Last written but first in the series, simultaneously final installment and a prelude to the other parts, the role this book plays likely finds echo in its own obsessions with memory, loss, with exit and, indeed, beginning. One plot device, such as it is, present in this text is that of being pursued. There is an element of chase in all the travel, and, thus, a touch of paranoia, perhaps well justified, in some of the concern with memory. “Nobody is coming after me,” we’re told at one point.

Surely they have forgotten about me. Nobody will ever come here to find me. He will never be able to find me. Nobody ever. And when I fled they didn’t even realise. They took no notice of me no one cared no one remembers. Now they will remember neither when nor how. Not even I. Tracks only, a hazy memory and those images when I look at what I have written, tracks of footprints in the mud before it starts raining again. Uncertain images of the road and thoughts mumbled words, and if you read them without the names you won’t understand, it could have been anywhere, and then I spoke with no one and those who saw me no chance that they remember me.

Who is this “he” so central to the hunt? Herein lies, I think, a key to the text, to the real drama playing out in this slim volume, a drama of the phenomenon of writing itself, the drama that is textuality, the process of words, preserved, of voices, living on the page once long forgotten in the world of flesh. Considered in this light, the end of the book is already the beginning of something more, another loop back into memory, an urging for us to turn back to the beginning, those cold wards by the sea, and rechart the travels of this man, his notes, his memories, his forgettings. But in the context of a larger trilogy, this ending is, in another sense, the start of something more, an exit, perhaps, into deeper considerations of the phenomenology of the self as something written, that “I” as it slips into the alien third person on the page, becoming a “he” of a drama no longer the writer’s own. By tapping into—and engaging with such visceral detail, as the scraps and scrims of scenes here provide—this issue of how writing works on the most basic, universal level, Lyacos has created a book of real interest and reward. One such visceral tool is the second person—the “you” written by some “I,” some “he”—who becomes the protagonist, allowing us, as readers, to embody the place ourselves in the volume’s inconclusive end:

… you look behind and expect him, you get away again, you are drowsy, you close your eyes, you see him before you, you get away you are tired, mostly you stand, you close your eyes open them again, you don’t want to go any further, you shall sink to your knees, the tiredness hurts even more, you are less afraid, you are feeling the blow, you open your mouth, you look at his mouth, you don’t want to stand up any more.

Official Dimitris Lyacos Web Site
Official Shoestring Press Web Site